I, too had a love-hate relationship. I hated something about it, now looking back I realize it was insecurity, it was hating my incompetence and being somewhat discouraged by it, and hating the cold water, and thus the first rush of cold as you got in and pushed off. So accepting any excuse not to go in -- too many people in lane, too cold etc. But doggedly showing up at the pool because of very deeply felt desire to keep improving.
But something has changed. I just completed my first IronMan race 2 weeks ago at Mont Tremblant and was really pumped by it. My 3.8k swim was 1:45, including quite a long walk up the beach and up some stairs, better than 2:00 a year ago, so not speedy by any means, but still finishing the swim in good shape, and a solid improvement from last year's try.
I returned to the pool because I still recognized that I still had a long further improvement ahead of me. I have kept on running from home to the pool as part of my training routine, and some days I've even run fast, and end up needing to do a short recovery. But I notice now I'm not thrown off as much when there's lots of people in my lane, and I now hardly dread the initial cold water immersion. And I'm more focussed on the moment, the quality of the stroke, rather than just getting to the end of each length and to the end of the number of laps and the end of the session. In other words I'm starting to enjoy more the moment rather than the hard won satisfaction of getting through something that might be mildly unpleasant, or at least something that was tinged with some avoidance on my part. It's an important distinction, and was not entirely clear-cut before, at the time, at least not until I've got past the worst of it now.
Funny, I would have said I accepted my incompetence and was enjoying working at improving, and it would have been true at some level. But I definitely am less inhibited now, and getting into the water is much easier now. It helps that my self imposed mantra is "relax", and "enjoy", and "feel satisfied" rather than "improve".
Cathy, ease up on yourself! It's amazing how giving yourself permission to enjoy the process, enjoy the moment, etc., can actually change how you feel, even if you are a Type A like me.